Our group chose to investigate the topic: Information Technology (IT) in education. IT refers to the use of computers and telecommunication devices to store, retrieve and send information. Our survey, sought to understand the students’ preference with regards to educational IT; their level of usage; their accessibility thereto; its cost effectiveness; and its effectiveness in general.
South Africa’s education system, and the model on which it is based, requires an overhaul. Regardless of whether you are looking at the Basic or Higher Education systems, South Africa is in crisis, with some learners never even receiving their prescribed textbooks. We looked at IT in education as a way to more effectively facilitate access to quality education to the majority of South Africans.
The end of 2015 saw the uprising of students across the country protesting the desperate need for access to education, with the end goal being free, quality education. By investigating the use of Information Technology as a mechanism of increasing access to education, or as a way to better access quality education, we examined effective alternatives to the way students/learners are educated. We also hoped to examine the viability of using IT in education.
With regards to education, or furthering knowledge, the use of IT allows for students to access knowledge or further the skills required for their jobs, from the comfort of their computers. It is a more convenient way to access education, and, given the correct infrastructure, greatly reduces the need for physical universities. It does, however, require access to the Internet and capable telecommunication devices. Our survey sought to understand if students have device preferences; whether they prefer traditional or newer IT methods of learning; and their usage of educational IT tools. We also analysed whether the use of IT has changed and/or improved student’s learning experiences.
The use of IT in education also creates access to current information or data, as opposed to traditional textbooks – whose knowledge can be outdated by the time of publication. IT allows for knowledge to be updated constantly, thus disseminating the most current information to students/learners.
We decided to target our survey at both full-time and part-time students, ages ranging between 17-40, across various educational, cultural, economic and geographic demographics. Given South Africa’s inadequate internet infrastructure, we sought to explore whether cost was a hindrance to the use of IT with regards to education.
The survey questions were formulated by the group and we made use of Survey Monkey to conduct our survey. The link to the survey http://www.surveymonkey.com/r/9SHW2BC was sent to the group members and each group member had to forward it to five or more students. In total we received 73 responses.
The majority (46.58%) of the respondents preferred to use a laptop, followed by smart phones at 41.10%. Less than 13% of the respondents preferred other devices. The results reflect that mobile devices, such as laptop computers and smart phones, are more flexible as they can be used at any time and any location. The functionalities of tablets are a duplication of laptop computers and desktop computers are fixed in one location hence they are not a preferred device.
The majority of the respondents (59.72%) prefer taking courses that use a moderate level of information technology, followed by 22.22% that prefer taking courses that use limited information technology extensively. About 17% prefer limited to no use of information technology. The above results reflect that most of the sample are still not ready to fully embrace technology in their daily lives as the sole educational tool. Learners and students are still very comfortable in the traditional way of receiving information.
Majority of the respondents (36.99%) spend 0 to 7 hours a week using technology for educational purposes. Followed by 34.25% that spend 7 to 14 hours, 15.07% spend 14 to 28 hours a week and 13.70% spend more than 28 hours a week using technology to advance their careers or skills. The results are again a clear indication that students are not as technologically comfortable as we would like to believe. An explanation could be that they would rather spend less time using technology to further their skills, or it could mean that the sample, a lot of whom are working professionals, do not have more than 7-14 hours per week to spend using educational IT.
About 60% of respondents do not think that these costs are reasonable. Approximately one-fifth of the respondents were neutral. Only 17.81% thought that the costs are reasonable. Compared to Europe and Northern America the cost of data in South Africa is disproportionately high, which is both ironic and telling, as these continents have very established, effective education systems, that heavily incorporate the use of IT. South Africa, as a much poorer, less developed country, desperately in need of reliable, cost effective education, needs cheaper data and is reflected in the majority of respondents being unwilling to pay R150 for only 1GB of data.
73.97% of students who completed the survey prefer a combination of traditional and new methodologies of teaching. The advancement of technology has not eliminated the need for traditional teaching methods, as about 19.18% of students prefer traditional teaching methods compared to the new interface methods, which is only 6.85%. The high costs associated with purchasing your own devices as well as data are a hindrance to most students. If internet access could be made more accessible (and cheaper) to everyone, we would probably see more students being open minded and willing to utilise the new, technologically-based teaching methodologies that are available.
68.06% of students who completed the survey believe that the use of information technology has enhanced their learning experience compared to 1.39% who disagreed. Only one respondent clicked “other” and their response was that they’d never used IT to enhance their learning experience. Unfortunately, this is incorrect as simply responding to our survey using a computer connected to the internet voids that response.
It is evident from the results that technology is capable of improving how learning is experienced by students. The impact of technology has been positive in many respects, learning has been made simpler and information is more readily available. Students learn at home, share ideas with fellow students and improve their research skills.
A high number of respondents (76.71%) agree that information technology has made their lives far easier, unsurprising given the technology and information age that we live in today. About 19% respondents responded “somewhat” and “neutral”. Only 4.11% of respondents have not benefitted from the exposure to information technology.
It is, however, surprising that the almost 19% felt relatively indifferent to information technology enhancing their student lives, but their responses may stem from our previous analyses that age and data/device costs may be influencing factors.
A significant proportion of respondents (91.80%) are likely to recommend online and/or video streaming technologies as a tool to deliver lessons to students. It could be assumed that the 6.85% of the respondents unlikely to recommend these platforms do not see their value as instructional media, or perhaps, they have simply never made use of these media or are completely unaware of their existence.
The results reflect that as readily available as information technology is, a significant number of users are still reluctant to embrace IT for educational purposes. Age could be a large factor in the respondents’ reluctance to rely solely on IT in education, but the familiarity of textbooks, tertiary institutions’ insistence of their use, and the unreliability of some websites and information, could all also be reasons.
The slow – and currently unaffordable – infrastructural development in South Africa’s IT sector is the main cause of the unresponsiveness to technology, however, with the children being exposed to technology in their formative years, we will probably see a shift away from their reliance on traditional media.
When questioning the eleven members of our group in preparation of the survey, and as a minute sample group, it was clear that they preferred the ease with which IT facilitated the accessibility of the educational process. It was also noted that for courses on the Coursera platform, for example, although taking the courses was free, certification – as one would want for CV purposes – was still about R1000 per module, which is cheaper than university courses at Wits, for example. We surveyed people who are currently students, and can, for the most part, afford the cost of further education, but further surveying is necessary with regards to people who do not have the means to purchase their own devices or have access to the internet.
Further, broader research is necessary to better understand the use of IT in education.
- Online courses perhaps require wider marketing to increase the reliance as an educational medium.
- Video streaming should be used as learning tool.
- South Africa should invest more in technological infrastructural development, in order to increase accessibility to IT .
- The price of data and telecommunication costs should be regulated.
- Tertiary institutions should shift their instructional reliance on traditional media to online media, which also allows learners access to more current information.